Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Local start-ups get ready for six-month accelerator

Yangon innovation lab Phandeeyar welcomed the six teams selected for its accelerator program last week. The young tech entrepreneurs have US$25,000 and six months to prepare to pitch investors with start-up ideas ranging from an online comic reading app to a microloan platform.

Technoholic’s Honey Mya Win practices her pitch at the Phandeeyar office. Photos: Steve Gilmore / The Myanmar TimesTechnoholic’s Honey Mya Win practices her pitch at the Phandeeyar office. Photos: Steve Gilmore / The Myanmar Times

Myanmar already has a handful of established tech firms that have spent the past few years overcoming regulatory and human resource issues to create successful gaming companies and design studios.

Phandeeyar is hoping its accelerator, which provides office space, mentoring and $200,000 worth of services from support partners, will help a new wave of tech entrepreneurs achieve success in months – not years.

“They’re not just going to be hanging out here,” said Phandeeyar CEO David Madden. “There is a tried and tested approach to rapidly build a successful tech start-up.”

The program is full-time and comes with coaching and support across a range of areas – Edulink will provide English classes to help teams pitch to international investors, and Ogilvy will addvise on marketing.

A few of the chosen teams have already launched their products. KoAung Ye Kyaw and Ko Nay Oo Linn have designed the White Merak comic reader app, which feature’s semi-animated Myanmar comics from past and present in dual language.

Most, like Technoholic’s co-founding sisters Ma Honey Mya Win and Ma Shwe Yee Mya Win, are still working on the mechanics. Technoholic’s first product is a platform that connects skilled freelancers and potential employers.

But no matter at what stage the idea, each team is forming its own Singapore-registered company – with defined ownership stakes - in order to receive the $25,000 in funding, which is part of a $2 million grant from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s philanthropic investment firm.

The moment the loan is signed, ideas that have been batted around and perfected among friends become the intellectual property of the teams’ Singapore-registered firms.

If a team is successful the $25,000 will convert into a 12 percent equity stake held by Phandeeyar, and success depends on raising a round of funding from local and international investors.

Phandeeyar staff with members of the six selected teams pose for a picture.SuppliedPhandeeyar staff with members of the six selected teams pose for a picture.Supplied

The start-ups spent their first Friday in the downtown Phandeeyar offices giving each other feedback on pitches, which will need to be finely honed by early next year.

“There will be a demo day in early March,” said Jes Kaliebe Petersen, Phandeeyar’s accelerator director. “Investors [will be] coming from Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia that are committed to investing in technology in Myanmar. [The teams] need to demonstrate they have moved to having a product in the market.”

Demonstrable revenue could be useful during pitching, but the most important thing is that it is clear the product has “traction” in the market, he added. Each team was chosen based on a range of criteria, but it was crucial that each was “passionate about solving a real problem,” Mr Madden said.

Laurent Savaete and Miranda Phua have co-founded ZigWay, which plans to provide what they call “nano loans” of up to K50,000 to help low-income Myanmar families meet daily expenses. The plan is for an existing microfinance firm to underwrite the loans, while ZigWay will create the platform to receive applications.

Rarhub is aiming to provide a platform offering listings of places to stay – apartments, dorms, hotels – for a range people in lower income brackets, as opposed to existing Myanmar property websites catering to people willing to pay over $1000 a month.

“It’s targeting students and young professionals in lower income brackets [along with] workers and labourers moving from rural areas to Yangon and others cities,” said Mr Petersen, adding that Rarhub, like Technoholic’s freelancing platform, could help replace an opaque existing system run by agents charging high prices.

Kargo, founded by Alex Wicks and Htun Khaing Lynn, will also provide connections, in this case between truck drivers and individuals or business in need of shipping space or an entire vehicle.

Another thing several start-ups have in common is that their products will incorporate an online payment system – something that would have been almost impossible a year or so ago.

White Merak is using Red Dot, but could also use WaveMoney – a program partner, said Mr Petersen.

Even if some firms have not decided on exactly how their fees or commission structure will work, the spread of mobile money technology in Myanmar has helped solve the payment solution problem for the new generation of tech start-ups.

“Now is exactly the right time to be doing this,” said Mr Madden.